Student Vote - Labour dominates. UKIP & Lib Dems rejected

Voting | 24 Jun 2015


Student Vote and Party Preference Exit Poll May 2015

Exit poll headlines...

  • As predicted, Labour is the leading party for students
  • The Greens take 13% of the vote, a good result, however less than predicted
  • UKIP holds very little appeal for students
  • The Lib Dems were soundly rejected by students; 7% supported them in 2015 compared to 50% planned support for 2010 election
  • Changes to student voter registration saw 60% of students voting in their home constituency – a major change since 2010
  • Student turnout of 69%, higher than general electorate which was 66% turnout
  • YouthSight, along with most of the UK’s polling industry will be looking with great interest at the recommendations from the British Polling Council’s enquiry.


A month has passed and the dust is beginning to settle. The UK general election delivered an unexpected victory for the Conservative Party and the nation’s polling industry made the headline news for all the wrong reasons (i.e. – not managing to accurately predict the results). Explanations that have been cited include the ‘shy Tory’ effect, as well as late decision-making favouring the Conservatives. The British Polling Council has set up an independent enquiry to investigate possible causes of the industry’s errors. At YouthSight, we focus on just one element of the national vote – that of students. As such we have no absolute benchmark to compare our predictions against. However we always strive to get to the truth and with that in mind, we ran our own poll immediately after the national vote (our exit poll) to compare stated voting intention and preference to actual voting behaviour.

In our final predictive poll, conducted just a few days before the election, Labour was substantially ahead of the Conservatives, The Green Party were in third place, followed by the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and then UKIP. Our exit poll, captured one week after the election, matched that prediction in terms of party order but suggested that, unlike the rest of the population, there was a late swing towards Labour.

Our exit poll included a ‘prefer not to say’ option which we did not include in our predictive polling questions. Thirteen percent of students chose this option, a substantial result, which means that the exit poll results are not comparable to our predictive poll results (our predictive poll put Labour 8 points ahead of the Tories while our exit poll saw a 20% gap). Thus it seems that many of those who wanted to keep their vote private, were actually voting Conservative - an interesting manifestation of the ‘shy Tory’ effect.


April prediction – 29th April – 1st May 2015, with 99interviews conducted with students across the UK by YouthSight
Exit poll – 15-19th May 2015, with 1009 interviews conducted with students across the UK by YouthSight

We will, of course, be looking closely at the results of the British Polling Council’s enquiry to establish how we can improve our polling in terms of method and analysis. However, in many respects, our predictive polling appears to have been vindicated (although we do recognise that we are marking our own work!). We anticipated the Green Party’s share falling off rapidly, prior to the election, we anticipated the decimation of the Liberal Democrat vote among students (we predicted 7% which matches our exit poll) we predicted UKIP’s rejection by students (they achieved nearly 13% nationally but just 3% among students, we predicted 4%) and we anticipated a very strong showing by Labour (we predicted a 34% share just before the election).

Changes to student voter registration saw 60% of students voting in their home constituency

In the lead up to the election, some commentators raised concerns about changes to voter registration process, whereby every voter needed to register themselves individually rather than en masse by their university (as in former years). Many feared that this change would leave thousands of students disenfranchised.

In the run up to the election we stated multiple times that we did not believe this would be the case. But we did raise concerns that constituency voting patterns were likely to change under the new system, the majority of students were opting to nominate their parents’ home as their registered voting location which, very frequently, was not in their university constituency. In our February polling we stated that only 40% of students would be casting their vote in their university town. Our exit poll found that this was accurate: 60% of students who voted said they did so in their home constituency while the remaining 40% of students voted in their university constituency. Eighteen per cent stated that they were not registered to vote by the time the election was held. The likely movement away from university constituencies could have been very significant in some key marginal seats e.g. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg only managed to keep his Sheffield Hallam seat by winning 2353 more votes than the Labour candidate. The two main universities in Sheffield have a combined population of over 60,000, so had more students voted in their university constituency, he may not have won.

Student turn-out higher than general electorate

YouthSight estimate that student voter turnout was 69% in the May 2015 general election; slightly higher than the national figure of 66% and considerably higher than the estimated turnout for the general youth population (58%). However, this number is lower than the 75% figure predicted by YouthSight in April 2015 – a figure we base on a standard ‘likelihood to vote’ question which respondents rate on a one to 10 scale. We will be looking at possible modifications to this question, which may have caused a slight over-estimate (currently we focus only on the views of those whose likelihood to vote is from 8 to 10 inclusive.

Students’ political concerns

In addition to our student vote polling, we have also been keeping track of the issues that concerned students in the UK,  in the run up to the general election. Since June 2014, we’ve consistently seen that students are most worried about personal issues, with job opportunities and living costs topping the list of concerns. These two topics, economics and employment issues, were featured heavily in the electoral campaign narratives.

Student vote #3 Image 3 copy

Fieldwork dates: Wave 1- 30th May- 18th June, Wave 2 – 10th October – 21st October and Wave 3- 5th March to 10th March

What we see beyond the top two concerns is interesting as it suggests that students are tuned into current affairs, with concerns reflecting global events. Instability in the Ukraine sparked concern about finite resources in June 2014, and the Ebola outbreak raised fears of disease in October last year while the rise of ISIS in Syria in March was the likely cause behind increased anxieties about terrorism.

It is also worth noting that students did not select home affairs issues in their top concerns. Neither health, policing, education nor housing featured in students’ top concerns, suggesting that beyond their immediate needs (a job and enough money to survive), students have a global outlook when it comes to politics. It also might suggest that Labour’s commitment to lower university fees to £6000 may have been less of a vote-winner than the Party might have assumed (although, of course, Labour did do very well among students).

Summary and conclusion

We saw similar numbers of students registered to vote in 2015 as seen in 2010 (83% in 2010 vs. 82% in 2015) and similar proportions of students turning out to vote (70% in 2010 vs. 69% in 2015). For the 2015 election there was neither a dip nor an increase in student political engagement, suggesting that the campaigns may not have addressed their core concerns. The Liberal Democrats 2010 peak proved to be the anomaly, while Labour experienced a strong resurgence, seeing them return as the leading student party. A notable story of the election was the rise of the Green Party, who, despite a fall off at the end of the campaign, saw a six fold increase in student support (from 2% in 2010 to 13% in the 2015 exit poll), with gains also recorded for the SNP (4%). Although gaining share, UKIP (3%)is not a significant force among students.

About this research

Student vote

Only full-time undergraduates at publicly funded UK and Higher Education institutions are included in each wave. The respondents questioned in the fieldwork for each wave are members of The Student Panel. Respondents have verified their academic email address (ending ‘’). Nested quotas are used to achieve a sample that was representative of the UK full time undergraduate population by gender, course year (1, 2, 3+) and university type (Russell group, pre 1992 universities, post 1992 universities and specialist institutions). Targets for the quotas and weights are acquired using population data supplied by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). Fieldwork was conducted between 29th April – 1st May 2015. To date YouthSight has completed 101 waves of fieldwork on the Student Vote since July 2004. The sample size for each student omnibus survey is between 1,000-1,100 respondents.

Student worries

YouthSight interviewed 700-800 students from 11 universities in June 2014, October 2014 and March 2015 about their concerns. Respondents were verified members of The Student Panel - a part of The OpinionPanel Community.

About YouthSight

YouthSight is an award-winning youth research agency.  Powered by the UK’s largest and best recruited specialist youth and student research panel, our 134,000 strong OpinionPanel Community offers unparalleled access to the hearts and heads of young people across the nation. We work with brands, universities, public policy organisations, trade and professional bodies, and employer brands – helping demystify Millennials and Generation Z.


If using this story online please can you point hyperlinks to or our media centre



Sarah Newton, Research Manager, YouthSight, 020 7288 8789

Ben Marks, Managing Director, YouthSight, 020 7288 8789

Back to Index


Keep up with the youth

Sign up to our newsletter for the latest insights in your sector

Sign me up

close button

Sign me up for up for exclusive insights

We'll only use your personal information to provide you our insight articles. We'll only contact you via email and you may unsubscribe at any time.